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General Meade himself wi'ote and signed the orders to Mer-
ritt and Gregg and the notification to General Sheridan.

Fitzhugh Lee's presence on the Brock road prevented our
gaining Spottsylvania Court House. So long as it was dark
General "Warren's infantry could have made but little more
progress against Fitzhugh Lee than Merritt's cavah-y did,
and the final result would have been the same whether he
or Merritt had the advance. The presence of Fitzhugh
Lee's cavalry on the Brock road, and Hampton's cavalry
and Longstreet's corps on the Shady Grove road, settled the
question as to who should first hold the Court House with
infantry, whatever might have been the disposition of our
cavalry. The distance from the Wilderness to Spottsylvania
Court House was about the same, by the routes followed
for both armies, though Hancock's left was nearer to it by
two or three miles than Longstreet's right, measured by the
shortest route the la'.ter could follow.


There was nothing in the site of Spottsylvania Court
House that gave it special military strength. Its military
importance was derived from its proximity to the Eichmond
and Fredericksburg Eailroad and the stage and telegraph
roads between these towns. Eoads also radiated from it in
all directions, including a good wagon-road to Eichmond.
But sufficiently good roads southward lay open to us on
either side of it, by which, if we did not attack in front, we
could have moved to turn either flank.

Very early in the morning of the 9th General Early was
ordered to Spottsylvania Court House by way of the Shady
Grove road, and took position in the afternoon close to and
east of the Court House, covering the road to Fredericks-
burg, where he intrenched. During the day Lee rectified
his lines, intrenched carefully, and put artillery in position.

General Hancock was directed to move up to the right of
the Fifth Corps, where he took position and intrenched on
high ground overlooking the Po anj the Shady Grove road
south of it. In the afternoon Mott's division was sent to
the left of the Sixth Corps.

No active operations were undertaken against the enemy
on the 9th ; the army was allowed to rest. The Fifth and
Sixth Corps readjusted their lines, threw up intrenchments,
strengthened those already made, and put artillery in posi-
tion. The skirmishers and sharpshooters were very active
on both sides, and in the morning General Sedgwick was
killed close to the intrenchments at the right of his corps,
but not under cover, at the point where the forks of the
road in Alsop's field unite. He was highly esteemed, being
a modest, courageous, honest-hearted man. General Wright
succeeded to the command of the corps.

The skirmishers of the Fifth and Sixth Corps were pushed
forward so as to develop the position and character of the
enemy's works, and ascertain where they were probably vul-


nerable. This work was continued by both those corps on
the 10th.'

Early in the morning of the 9th, General Bumside moved
with the Ninth Corps from Aldrich's, on the Orange and
Fredericksburg plank road, to Gate's house, on the road from
Spottsylvania Court House to Fredericksburg, and then
toward the Court House, crossing the Ny at Gate's house (a
mile and a half from the Court House) with Willcox's divi-
sion, and encountering a force of dismounted cavalry and a
brigade of Longstreet's corps, according to General Bum-
side's report. About midday Stevenson's division arrived, a
portion of which was also thrown across the river, while
Potter's division following was held near Alsop's, about a
mile back from the Ny.

Some description of Lee's intrenched position may be
necessary to the comprehension of the operations that fol-
lowed. The principal roads leading to the Court House
have been already noted, as well as the general position of
Longstreet's, Ewell's, and Hill's corps.

Longstreet's corps occupied a line running from the river
Po in a general direction, a little north of east, and about a
mile and a quarter long in a straight line, not following the

' From an examination of the Beport of the Medical Director of the Army of the
Potomac, Surgeon McParlin, pp. 153-178, Appendix to Part First, Medical and
Surgical History of the War, I iand that the number of wounded of the cavalry
on the morning of the 8th of May was 250 ; the number of the wounded of the
Fifth Corps on the 8th and 9th of May, nearly all on the 8th, was 1,419. The
wounded of the Second and Sixth Corps on those days was about 160 each, mak-
ing a total of 1,969 wounded. Taking the mean between one-fourth and one-
fifth of this number, for the number of killed, a proportion which I have found
to be very nearly correct, we have about 443 killed, and a total loss of killed and
wounded on those days of about 3,412. The number of missing was small.

Of the General officers. General Robinson, Fifth Corps, was severely wounded
on the 8th ; General Sedgwick killed, and General MoitIs, Sixth Corps, wounded
on the 9th. On the Confederate side, Brigadier-General Hays, Johnson's division,
was wounded on the ffth.

I have not found a statement of the killed, wounded, and missing of the Con-
federate force.


varying directions and sinuosities of the intrenchments. Its
left rested on the Po, opposite the right of the Fifth Corps,
in high, open ground, about one-third of a mile, in a straight
line, above the Shady Grove road bridge, which its artillery
covered. The intrenchments here lay for one-third of a mile
on the elevated, open ground of Perry's farm, having in
front of them, at varying distances, in no place exceeding
two hundred yards, a belt of wood, chiefly on the descend-
ing slope of the plateau, which wood intervened between
them and the intrenchments of the right of the Fifth Corps,
though not extending to those intrenchments. The line
then ran through this belt of wood and along its outer edge
on the Spindler farm to the junction of the Brock and Block
House roads, around which was the open ground of Spin-
dler's farm. This part of the line, from the Po to the Brock
road, was occupied by Field's division of Longstreet's corps.
On the right of the Brock road the intrenchment ran through
woods (which were slashed in part) in a northeast direction
for the space of half a mile, entering then the open ground
of Harrison's farm. This part was occupied by Kershaw's
division, whose right extended beyond the left of the Fifth
Corps. The line now ran nearly north for half a mile, chiefly
through wood, which was slashed, some part being in open
ground, where there were abatis. Eodes's division of
Ewell's corps occupied this part of the line, his right
(Doles's brigade) resting at what was afterward known as
the bloody angle. From this angle the line ran along the
outer edge of a wood in a nearly east direction (a little north
of east) for about four hundi-ed yards, having in front of
it for a long distance the open ground of Landron's and
Brown's farms ; it terminated at a high, open point, which.
General Ewell says, if held by the enemy, would have en-
abled their artillery to command our line. Six or eight
guns were in position at this angle. This east and west line


is usually termed the salient, but should be called its apex.
The intrenohments turned here at this high, open point,
making a second angle which has been sometimes con-
founded with the west angle, and ran nearly south six
or seven hundred yards, having fairly open ground in
front and the wood about the McOool house in rear. Gen-
eral Johnson's division of Ewell's corps held the intrenoh-
ments from Bodes's right along the apex of the salient, and
along a part of its east face for the distance of six or
seven hundred yards. Walker's (Stonewall) brigade was
on the left of Johnson's division, then York's (formerly Staf-
ford's), then Teny's (formerly Jones's), whose right was at
the east angle, the high open point which he held. Stew-
art's brigade held from the east angle south toward Hill.
Gordon's division was held in reserve.

Hill's corps, on Ewell's right, occupied a line running
nearly south, and terminating south of the road from Spott-
sylvania Court House to Fredericksburg. The interval be-
tween Ewell and Hill was occupied by skirmishers. The
ground in front of Hill was broken and wooded over the
third of its length adjoining Ewell's line ; for the remaining
distance the ground was open. In a straight line the dis-
tance from the left to the right of Hill's corps was, at this
time, about a mile and a half — by the line of intrenohments
more. From Bodes's left centre to Hill's left an intrench-
ment cutting oft" the northerly part of the salient (or the
" two angles," as General Bwell terms it) was built and occu-
pied by Gordon's division, but some batteries of the Sixth
Corps enfilading this line, his division was placed near the
junction of Kershaw's and Eodes's divisions in order to sup-
port either. Artillery, giving flank as well as direct fire,
was placed in position throughout these intrenohments, and
wherever they were subject to the enfilade fire of our artil-
erly they were well traversed. Where there was wood in


front of them it was slashed, where the ground was open
there was abatis.

On the 10th the intrenchments on the enemy's left were
extended a mile west of the Po, on the high, open ground
of Graves's farm, in order to cover the Shady Grove road,
and an additional intrenchment was thrown up early in the
morning of the 10th in similar ground on the east bant of
the Po, to hold the Shady Grove crossing of that stream.
Later on, the intrenchments east of the Court House were
extended about two miles south of it, the extreme right rest-
ing on the Po at Snell's bridge.

It will be perceived from this brief sketch of Lee's in-
trenchments, that, from the vicinity of the intersection of
the Brook and Block House roads, where the advanced in-
fantry troops of the armies first came in contact, his line
formed a salient projecting a mile to the north, with a width
of half a mile from the west to the east face. The eastern half
or more of the salient was covered by wood ; in the western
part was the open ground of Harrison's and McCool's farms.
West of the salient these intrenchments extended in a direc-
tion a little south of west about two miles, as aheady de-
scribed, covering the chief road leading west from the Court
House and the crossing of the Po by that road, while on the
right of the salient its easterly face was extended a mile
south, and subsequently two miles further, to Snell's bridge
over the Po.

With such intrenchments as these, having artilleiy
throughout, with flank fire along their lines wherever prac-
ticable, and with the rifled muskets then in use, which were
as effective at three hundred yards as the smooth-bore mus-
kets at sixty yards,' the strength of an army sustaining at-
tack was more than quadrupled, provided they had force

' Accuracy of fire is meant, not range.


enough to man the intrenchments well. In fact there is
scarcely any measure by which to gauge the increased
strength thereby gained. Much the greater part of this in-
trenchment was concealed by wood, which in some places
was scrubby and dense. The enemy's skirmish lines and
sharpshooters were very active in trying to keep off all our
attempts to examine them closely. Our own skirmishers
were pressed against them, and in many places forcing them
back into, or close to their works, gave the opportunity for
quick examination, and furnished the information upon
which our assaults were made.

The report of General Burnside to General Grant on the
9th, of the force he had encountered on the Fredericksburg
road, seeming to indicate that Lee was moving in the direc-
tion of Fredericksburg, General Hancock was directed to
examine the Po with a view to crossing it. Prom Corbin'a
bridge to the left of Hancock's corps the course of the Po is
about east ; it then turns and runs south about two and a
half miles, when it again runs easterly. In front of Hancock
its course was east, having the Shady Grove road running
parallel to it at the distance of a mUe. It was determined
that Hancock should cross the river in his front and make a
reconnoissance in force along the Shady Grove road on the
enemy's left, crossing the river again by the Shady Grove
road bridge or below it, with a view to turning and attacking
the enemy's left.

Hancock says that at six o'clock in the morning, in accord-
ance with instructions from the Commanding General, he
directed Birney, Barlow, and Gibbon to cross the stream,
which they did at. three different points, Gibbon being the
furthest down and opposite the left of the position of the
Second Corps. The passage was difScult, owing to the depth
of the water and the thick undergrowth of the banks. The
resistance to Birney was stubborn, but not so to Barlow,


and to Gibbon there was none. After the crossing, three
pontoon bridges were laid by General Hancock, one at Bar-
low's crossing and two near Gibbon's. The river was fifty
feet wide and not fordable. The troops were pushed for-
ward toward the Block House bridge, but night coming on, it
was impracticable to keep the skirmish line moving through
the dense woods in the darkness, though a portion of it
reached the stream and ascertained that it was too deep to
ford. General Hancock was compelled to wait until morn-
ing, though anxious to secure the Block House bridge and
cross before halting.

Late in the night orders were issued from the headquarters
of the Army of the Potomac for the operations of the next
day. General Hancock was to endeavor to ascertain the po-
sition and force of the enemy in his front and the location of
his left flank, and hold his corps ready to advance against
the enemy ; the Sixth Corps to feel in like manner for the
enemy's intrenchments in his front. General Mott to hold
his division ready to move to General Burnside upon hearing
heavy firing in that direction.

At early dawn on the 10th, a close examination was made
by Hancock of the Block House bridge, with the design of
forcing a passage over it, but the enemy was found in strong
force on the opposite bank in intrenchments which com-
manded the bridge and its approaches, and General Hancock
concluded not to attempt to carry the bridge, but sent
Brooke's brigade of Barlow's division down the river to as-
certain what could be effected there.' General Birney was
directed to send a small force out on the Andrews's tavern
road to cover Brooke's movement. Brooke crossed the Po
about half a mile below the bridge, and pushing forward a

1 It is stated ia the Offlcial Biary of Longatreet^s Corps, May 9th, " At night
Mahone's division is sent to the left of Field to hold the Shady Grove road.^* The
intrenohments mentioned were thrown up by Mahone.


detaohment a short distance, discovered the enemy's line of
strong earthworks occupied by artillery and infantry.

At this time General Hancock received a despatch from
General Meade, dated 10 a.m., directing him to transfer two
divisions to General Warren's position, and arrange with
General Warren to make a vigorous attack on the enemy's
line at five o clock, the remaining division to be so disposed
as to keep up his threatening attitude on the enemy's left, but
in such manner that it could be promptly withdrawn to him
if needed. General Wright and General Mott were ordered
to attack at the same hour. General Warren was corre-
spondingly instructed, and informed that General Hancock,
in vii-tue of seniority, would command th^ combined opera-
tions of the two corps.

Accordingly Gibbon's division recrossed at once and
formed on Warren's right ; Birney's division followed, and
was massed in rear of Warren, leaving Barlow to hold the
ground on the south side of the Po ; General Hancock pro-
ceeded at once to examine the ground where the assault
was to be made. When General Birney began to withdraw,
the regiments he had ordered toward Andrews's tavern
were attacked near Glady Run and driven in, and it soon
became evident that the enemy were advancing in force
on Barlow's position. When General Meade was informed
of this, he directed Barlow's division to be withdrawn to
the north side of the Po, as he did not wish to bring on a
battle at that time on the south side. General Hancock
accordingly joined General Barlow and directed him
to recross the river. This withdrawal commenced about
two o'clock. Brooke's and Brown's brigades were in
front (south) of the Shady Grove road ; Miles's and Smyth's
brigades along the road, the left resting on a crest a few
hundred paces from the Block House bridge. In rear
of this line a broad open plain extended to the pontoii


bridges ; it was swept by the artillery of Field's left and of
the intrenohments at the Block House bridge. Brooke's
and Brown's brigades were withdrawn to the right and rear
of Miles's and Smyth's brigades to a wooded crest, and Miles
and Smyth retired to a crest in front of the ponton bridges.
The enemy, Heth's division of Hill's corps, now advanced and
attacked Brooke and Brown with great vigor, but were met
by a destructive fire that forced them to fall back at once
with severe loss. They reformed and again attacked, press-
ing forward close up to our line, but were again met by so
deadly a fire that they again fell back with heavy loss. Dur-
ing this contest the woods took fire on the right and rear of
these two brigades, and approached so close that upon the
second repulse of the enemy, Brooke and Brown were or-
dered to retire across the river, which they did in admirable
order, under the artillery fire of the enemy already referred
io, which swept the plain. The enemy seeing these troops
retiring, again advanced, but were checked by their fire.
The horses of one of Captain Arnold's guns became terrified
and unmanageable by the fire of the woods, and wedged the
gun so fljcmly between two trees that it could not be extri-
cated, and was lost — the first gun, General Hancock says, lost
by the Second Corps. The loss of these two brigades in
killed and wounded was heavy. Some of the wounded per-
ished in the fire of the woods. A heavy artillery flr6 between
the guns of the Second Corps and of the enemy closed the

General Early says of this operation of the Second Corps,
that " early on the morning of the 10th he was ordered to
move one of his divisions back to cover the crossing of the
Po on the Shady Grove road ; and to move with another to
the rear and left by the way of Spottsylvania Old Court
House, and drive back a column of the enemy which had
crossed the Po and taken possession of the Shady Grove


road," thus threatening their rear and endangering their
trains, which were on the road leading from Louisa Court
House past the Old Court House. Mahone's division, he
says, was sent to occupy the banks of the Po on Field's left,
while with Heth's division and a battalion of artillery he
moved to the rear, crossing the Po on the Louisa Court
House road, and then following that road until he reached
one coming in from Waite's shop on the Shady Grove road.
After moving about a mile on Waite's shop road, he con-
tinues, he met Hampton gradually falling back before the
enemy, who had pushed out a column of infantry consider-
ably to the rear of the Confederate Une. (This column was
the regiments sent by Bimey to cover Brooke's right.)
" This column was, in turn," he says, " forced back to the
position of the Shady Grove road, which was occupied by
what was reported to be Hancock's corps. Following up
and crossing a small stream (Glady Eun) just below a mill-
pond, we succeeded in reaching Waite's shop (on the Shady
Grove road), from whence an attack was made on the enemy,
and the entire force which had crossed the Po was driven
back with the loss of one piece of artillery, which fell into
our hands, and a considerable number in killed and
wounded." "This," he says, "relieved us from a very
threatening danger, as the position the enemy had attained
would have enabled him to completely enfilade Field's posi-
tion, and get possession of the line of our communications
to the rear, within a very short distance of which he was,
when met by the force which drove him back. In this af-
fair Heth's division behaved very handsomely, all of the bri-
gades (Cook's, Davis's, and Walker's) being engaged in the
attack. General H. H. Walker had the misfortune to re-
ceive a severe wound in the foot, which rendered amputation
necessary, but otherwise our loss was slight."
Intrenohments were thrown up from Field's left on the


Po, covering the Shady Grove road for the space of a mile,
in addition to those on the east bank, covering the Block
House bridge. General Hancock says, "The enemy re-
garded this as a considerable victory, and General Heth
published a congratulatory order to his troops, etc. Had
not Barlow's fine division, then in full strength, received
imperative orders to withdraw, Heth's division would have
had no cause for congratulation."

Throughout the morning of the 10th there was sharp skir-
mish and artillery flre going on, part of it preliminary to the
attacks dii-ected for the afternoon. At 3.30 p.m. General
Hancock was informed by General Meade that General
Warren reported the opportunity for immediate attack to
be so favorable that he was ordered to attack at once, and
Gibbon directed to co-operate with him ; that Wright was or-
dered to be ready to attack at once. At a quarter before
four o'clock General Wright with Mott was ordered to at-
tack immediately.

General Warren, wearing his full uniform, proceeded to as-
sault the enemy's position at once with Crawford's and
Cutler's divisions, and Webb's and Carroll's brigades of
Gibbon's division under Gibbon's orders.' Opposite the
right of this attacking force the wood in front of the enemy's
intrenchments was dense, and filled with a low growth of
dead cedar trees, whose hard, sharp-pointed branches, inter-
laced and pointed in all directions, made it very difficult for
the troops to advance under the heavy artillery and mus-
ketry flre they met at the outset. They Emerged into the
open ground near the intrenchments with disordered ranks
and under a heavy artillery and musketry flre, part direct,
part flanking, that swept the whole ground, but went for-

1 Boblnson^s division had been broken up and its troops distributed to the othet
divisions, excepting Dennison'B Maryland brigade, the term of whose service ex-
pired before the close of May,


ward, some to the abatis, others to the crest of the parapet,
but were all driven back with heavy loss. General Carroll
says that the right of his line gained the enemy's breast-
works, and his whole line reached the abatis. It is claimed
that some of Crawford's men did the same, or it may be
Cutler's. The OiBcial Diary of Longstreet's Corps says,
" Some of the enemy succeed in gaining the works but are
killed in them." Brigadier-General Eice, commanding a
brigade in Cutler's division, a very gallant officer, was
mortally wounded in this assault.

General Hancock returned to the ground at about half-
past five P.M., just before the close of the assault. He was
ordered to renew it at half-past six p.m., but, under orders,
deferred it until seven p.m., when he attacked with Birney's
and Gibbon's divisions, part of the Fifth Corps uniting with
him, but with no more success than the preceding attempt.
In this second attack the wood was on flre in some places.

It is to be regretted that Hancock had not been directed
to cross the Po at daylight of the 10th, instead of being
ordered to cross late in the afternoon of the 9th. Had he
been, there appears to be every reason to conclude that the
Confederate left would have been turned and taken in rear,
while the Fifth Corps attacked it in front.

As it was, Hancock's crossing in the evening of the 9th put
Lee on his guard, and enabled him to bring troops to the
threatened flank by daylight of the 10th and throw up in-
trenchments.' It was a mistake, too, as Hancock had crossed,
to abandon the turning movement on the morning of the

Online LibraryJohn Howard BrownCampaigns of the civil war → online text (page 7 of 39)